When people hear that I run marathons, a common follow-up question is: How do you run that far?
I’ve learned that it’s best to not pull any punches. Brutal honesty is the best policy. “Well,” I answer, “I put one foot in front of the other. And then I keep doing it.”
Okay, I’m not always that smart-alecky. But that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? There aren’t any magic tricks or shortcuts. Training fads come and go. All the wisdom and cleverly-spun observations of the great runner-philosophers will not put your shoes on and lift your foot to take that first step. You do it yourself.
I ran 18 miles last Saturday, and it was…long. The first half felt fine. I was taking it slow, but that was the plan. I reached my turnaround point, sucked down my chocolate energy gel and felt optimistic.
It turns out my legs had other plans. As the miles progressed, they felt more and more leaden. Not to mention I felt that old familiar feeling in my belly — you know the one; the feeling that automatically makes every toilet and adequately-discreet shrub in a 5-mile radius disappear? Yep.
I tried every tactic I could think of. I ran tall. I told myself, This has been a good run and will continue to be a good run. I prayed for any friend or loved one who popped into my mind. As I entered the last two miles, though, it became clear: I could muster every psychological trick in the book, but the only thing that would get those miles covered would be the simple — almost cruelly so — act of me putting one foot in front of the other to move forward.
It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I finished the run, even managing a few smiles at passers-by (well, I tried to smile. If you saw me and were frightened, I’m sorry). I found a Porta-Potty (no more detail there, I promise). And I was reminded that really, truly, there’s no secret of how to run, whatever the distance. It all boils down to just doing it.
There’s a passage in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when one of the main characters confesses to her mother in a letter that she’s afraid she doesn’t know how to love. The mother responds, “Do you think any of us know how to love?! Do you think anybody would ever do anything if they waited until they knew how to love?!…God knows how to love, Kiddo. The rest of us are only good actors.”
It also reminds me of a recent Kristin Armstrong column in which she writes about the value of simply moving forward when you don’t know what else to do in life.
If running doesn’t exemplify that, I don’t know what does.
With running, there’s no “Aha!” moment where you snap your fingers and say “There, I’ve studied and queried and observed enough; now I’m ready to start.” There’s no mystery to it. That’s one of the reasons why I love it.
So if you’re thinking about lacing up running shoes for the first time, or increasing your distance, go for it! It may not always be easy, or pretty, but it’s not as complicated as it may seem.